The Institute of Inorganic and Applied Chemistry keeps pace with the times and researches topics that are extremely relevant to our society. We do not see ourselves as representatives of a branch of academic research that operates in an ivory tower, entirely unrelated to pressing socioeconomic issues that society rightly expects publicly funded research will strive to solve.
If we were to describe our research areas in a few words, they would be:
energy, raw materials and substances, and efficiency and sustainability.
Did you know, for example, that just 1.8% of plastic waste is really reused as a raw material? The rest is either simply incinerated in a process known as thermal recovery (approx. 61%) or downcycled and offered on the market for use in products of an inferior quality, such as plastic granulates (approx. 37%). This is where the research of Dr. Enthaler comes in. He is seeking a way to achieve genuine chemical recycling, so to recover the raw materials that the plastics were originally made from.
Incinerating plastic and fossil fuels produces CO2, and this is by no means beneficial to the global climate. What if we could transform the resulting CO2 into a source of energy again by means of catalyzed reactions? And what if we could convert natural gas into higher-value, extremely important raw materials (e.g., methanol) for the chemical industry instead of just burning it? Prof. Burger is addressing just these questions.
The focus is also increasingly shifting to hydrogen in the substitution of fossil energy carriers. However, further research must be conducted into the efficient production and storage of hydrogen. While Prof. Burger is working on solar-driven water splitting, Prof. Fröba is applying his expertise in porous solids to develop potential storage systems. His excellent connections to energy associations ensure that the solutions envisaged are also feasible in practice.
Speaking of energy, if used efficiently, the sun can potentially provide an incredible amount of energy. To date, the cosmic photon flux has been used for solar thermal energy or to generate electricity, for example. However, these reflect just a relatively modest range of the possibilities. The whole spectrum of photocatalysis—chemical reactions supported or triggered by light—is capable of far more. JProf. Mascotto is working to optimize a special class of materials (perovskite oxides) so that they produce fuels when exposed to light (so-called sun-to-fuel processes).
Prof. Jacobi von Wangelin focuses on the sustainability of catalytic reactions in his research. One aspect that his research group is looking at is whether the very expensive and rare catalyst metals frequently used in the past (e.g., platinum, palladium, and rhodium) can be replaced with metals that are cheaper and more readily available (e.g., iron) by means of a specific ligand design. Together with his research group, he is also investigating how to design catalyst systems so that they function with light. The design of reactors in which such reactions take place is also of fundamental importance. Here, they are striving to considerably increase the space-time yield. Thus, the research group is working on two aspects to make sustainability more than just a mere word and to back it up with chemical knowledge.
Today’s modern and increasingly digitalized society generates an incredible amount of data. Did you know, for example, that 188 million emails are sent per minute? But where can we store all of this data? And how can we store it so that we can still reliably retrieve it hundreds of years from now? This is one of the research areas of Prof. Carmen Herrmann. It still takes about 20 square nanometers to store 1 unit of binary information. But what unimagined possibilities would arise if it were possible to store this information in just one single molecule? Prof. Hermann is attempting to exploit the spin properties of molecules—she is essentially working on data storage 5.0, so to speak.
This is just one of Prof. Hermann’s research areas though. With her extensive knowledge of theoretical chemistry, she also supports all of the institute’s other research groups by conducting simulation calculations to preevaluate the feasibility of practical problems. Thus she uses the entire repertoire of theoretical chemistry, whose diverse methods she masters as skillfully as Mozart did the musical keys. She therefore ensures that her research is sustainable in both senses of the word, avoiding unnecessary or futile experiments.
Why must the atmosphere always be controlled so unusually precisely at museums? And how can normal weather conditions lead to the destruction of valuable works of art, buildings, structures, and sculptures? One of the secrets is that chemistry behaves differently on surfaces and in porous media than it does in free volumes. Did you know, for instance, that if liquid water is trapped in a space of just a few nanometers, it can no longer be transformed into ice? It remains liquid even at cryogenic temperatures. Prof. Steiger investigates phenomena such as the altered physicochemical and thermodynamic properties of substances. This knowledge is essential if we wish to preserve works of art like the Venus of Willendorf (approx. 30,000 years old) for posterity, for example.
In order to better study phenomena such as confinement (spatial limitation / restriction) and to enhance the existing knowledge without risking the destruction of precious originals, it is helpful to be able to produce artificial matrices with an adjustable room size and geometry. This is another project of Prof. Dr. Fröba’s research group, which is able to synthesize a wide variety of such porous, sponge-like phases. These are not only used for research into the fundamentals of the altered behavior of materials; they also form the basis for new types of energy storage systems—thus completing the circle with regard to the three key areas of research mentioned above.
Have we aroused your interest—whether as a scientist working abroad, a shareholder with an interest in entrepreneurship, or a student fascinated by the most pressing issues of our time? Then contact us today!